Looking at four leaders' legacies New executives start next week Larry Carson, Bruce Reid, Marina Sarris and Norris West contributed to this story.

November 30, 1990

Four county executives in the Baltimore metropolitan area, who presided over some of the most explosive growth the region's suburbs have seen, leave office next week .

O. James Lighthizer of Anne Arundel and Habern W. Freeman Jr. Harford served two four-year terms, the most allowed by their counties. Dennis F. Rasmussen in Baltimore County and Elizabeth Bobo in Howard had hoped to win second terms, but were ousted by voters who felt they'd grown out of touch.

What follows are some of the legacies of their leadership:


It's hard to create a legacy after only four years in office, but Dennis Rasmussen had a productive, if star-crossed, term as Baltimore County executive.

He left a lasting mark in the bricks-and-mortar projects he began: a distinctive new police and fire headquarters, new police stations at White Marsh and Woodlawn, a widened new Joppa Road and major renovations to various county buildings in Towson. He renovated and expanded the County Council and executive offices, restored the old Towson courthouse portico and undertook a major landscaping outside the historic courthouse -- things criticized in his re-election run as symbols of extravagance.

In addition, Rasmussen finalized plans for a 26-acre fire department complex at Sparrows Point, a new $32 million emergency communications system and a major addition to the county detention center in Towson.

Depending on what future administrations do, he also set the county on a course toward greater county cooperation with Baltimore, advocated restructuring the tax base to shift away from such heavy reliance on the property tax and created a department to protect the environment.

He made a bold step toward confronting the problem of providing affordable housing for low and middle-income people, but fell short in establishing any policy toward that end.

In creating a Department of Community Development, Rasmussen for the first time gave local housing programs an official home in the county bureaucracy -- a courageous political move because of the potent racial tensions behind years of opposition to government subsidized "low-cost housing" in the county.

"He did a lot of good for poor people in Baltimore County," said Ronald B. Hickernell, D-1st, the outgoing long-time councilman from Catonsville, referring to Rasmussen's efforts to provide housing for the elderly, the poor and residents of historic black neighborhoods. "The reality is that people in elective office now need to worry about the wisdom of being brave."

Surely unintentionally, he also left a political legacy likely to be a lesson for those eager to try for the county's top job. Rasmussen's loss to political novice Roger B. Hayden, despite out-spending him by more than 10-1, won't soon be forgotten by local politicians.

They will remember to avoid even the appearance of extravagance, to work diligently to get to know and woo county employees and to be much more visible at community events and political club meetings. Most importantly, they will remember not to ignore a grass roots revolt such as that waged by county property tax protesters that helped bring Rasmussen to defeat.


For one who professes to avoid the political playing field, Habern Freeman, the outgoing executive in Harford County, seems to have been successful at his own sort of hardball.

He's run his "company," as he calls it, shunning public relations and public appearances. "I don't put on a show," he said.

His stubbornness is most evident in the tight fist in which he held spending. His independence and honesty of expression never left one wondering where he stood.

The 48-year-old Democrat can safely say that the county is decent financial shape, having cut its overall debt by more than half. Freeman's growth-control strategy -- based on clustering intense development along the Md. 24 corridor from Bel Air south and along the Interstate 95-U.S. 40 corridor -- also has contributed to the relative affordability of housing in the county.

His popularity continued in this year's elections, when he easily beat William S. James, a former state treasurer and state senator, to win the Democratic nomination for the District 34 state Senate seat. He had no Republican opposition in the Nov. 6 general election.

Freeman's fiscal conservatism was the most visible aspect of his legacy. His spending policies were based in large part on an avoidance of much borrowing and a preference for paying for schools and other building projects with cash from the general fund.

His pay-as-you-go policy has been criticized on some fronts recently, especially as the school system has sought to honor raises for teachers while at the same time has sought money to build more schools.

The 1980s were a boom time for most suburban counties, but Freeman contended that he ran his administration as if times were tough.

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